Bully-boy PM strikes again

Outside of Westminster, if David Cameron called someone a "mug" during a political debate, he'd prob

When the Prime Minister is under pressure, civility is always his first victim. Whether directed at a "frustrated" Nadine Dorries, Angela "calm down, dear" Eagle, or Ed "the mug" Miliband, David Cameron's belittling quips betray an arrogant swagger that outside the world of politics would land him in deep trouble.

The latest instalment of Bully-Boy Cameron's antics at this week's PMQs was swiftly followed by a rebuke from the speaker - Cameron had branded Miliband "a complete mug" for his supposed lack of willingness to see repatriation of powers from Brussels.

For a former PR man Cameron seems to forget that outright name-calling is antithetical to reasoned and constructive debate - it merely contributes to a negative perception of him as as evasive and cavalier.

What Cameron fails to understand is that there is a difference between using pointed sarcasm and intelligent parody to undermine your opponents position and losing your temper and simply blurting out whatever derogatory remarks happen to come into your head. It's a fair bet that if you were taking part in a serious debate and were subjected to a supercilious Cameron wisecrack of the kind witnessed today, then the "discussion" would get ugly fairly quickly.

Not everyone agrees with this assessement. Over on the Spectator's Coffee House blog, Lloyd Evans believes Cameron's "nastiness, his reserves of personal malice -- so clearly part of his character -- helped him out". It's an interesting take and underscores the machismo that has come to characterise PMQs -- Cameron's aggressiveness is seen as positive because it effectively detracts from the more damaging story of his own MPs treachery over Europe

Cameron is notorious for his ability to bat away awkward questions in the House. But rather than reverting to the tactics of the play-ground bully, he would do well to heed the advice of philsopher Jim Rohn when he said:

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.